As a Registrar, I find myself interacting with policy on a daily basis. At my university, I find that I write or revise several policies every year. Today seems to be a policy-writing day, so I thought I would share my reflections on policy here.
My philosophy of good policy is that it should promote something good. However, we all know that policies are usually written because something bad has happened and some faculty member has slapped the podium while saying, “We have to stop that from happening again!” So it is normal, I guess, for policy to be written with “Thou shalt not…” language.
It is interesting how negative the Ten Commandments sound. “Thou shalt have no other gods before me.” “Thou shalt not murder.” And it is interesting to me that Jesus, that great story-teller, turned the negatives into positives when an expert in the law (read, “policy”) asked him, “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” Jesus replied, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it. Love your neighbour as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”
Jesus is known for railing against the established religious leaders – the Pharisees and Sadducees, and I think it is because they were control freaks. They were known for adding law up on law, rule upon rule, regulation upon regulation. They were stealing life instead of promoting it!
If you ask faculty and other administrators in universities what the role of the Registrar is, the first thing they will blurt out is, “Gate keeper!” And every time I hear that, a little piece of me dies. But we’ve done it to ourselves by writing, or at least agreeing to enforce, negative, life-sucking policy.
How can we turn this around? How can we become known for promoting life-changing, inspiring universities?
Start by asking what we want and looking for a positive answer. For example, if we say, “We don’t want students to skip class!” we might be tempted to write a policy that sounds like one of the Ten Commandments: “Thou shalt not skip class. If you do, plagues will descend on you.”
Ugh. What a life-sucking policy.
Instead, what if we asked ourselves what we hope for in class attendance? We all know there is a positive correlation between class attendance and student success, and we all want students to succeed, so why don’t we write a class attendance policy that promotes this? For example, “Class attendance is important, and promotes student success. To this end, students are encouraged [maybe required?] to attend classes and to participate and fully engage in the activities of each course as much as possible. Students who are unable to attend class for legitimate reasons have a responsibility to communicate with the instructor as early as possible. Excessive absences may make it impossible to successfully complete a course, and instructors have a responsibility to communicate this to students.”
It is not a perfect policy, but the key is that it promotes success, not failure. It assumes students want to attend classes and that there are engaging activities in our classes.
If you have examples of positive, life-promoting policy, please leave a comment and point me to them! Be a force for good in universities!